Overland Track, Tasmania

Route: Ronny Creek (Cradle Mountain)- Cynthia Bay (Lake St Clair), Cradle Mountain National Park- Lake St Clair National Park

Distance: 65km (If taking the ferry from Narcissus Bay to Cynthia Bay) or 81km if walking from Narcissus Bay to Cynthia Bay (one-way)

Time: Typically the hike is 6 days (for 65km) or 7 nights (for 81km). It’s possible to do ‘double-days’ if you’re short on time- I ended up doing the 81km (plus a couple of side trips) in 5 days (and I put a rest day near the end)

Difficulty: Moderate. (Although some side tracks such as the Cradle Mountain and Mt Ossa Summits are difficult and require some rock scrambling). There were a number teenagers doing this hike with their parents and the route is well-marked. A lot of the track, particularly over the buttongrass, is on man-made boardwalk.   Doing this solo in summer, I carried between 15-19kg (with water) but you could get away with less if you are hiking with two or more people.

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Special Notes:

During the peak season, from 1st October to 31st May (inclusive) you must book your walk ( a maximum of 60 walkers depart each day which includes up to 34 independent walkers, 13 group members and 13 commercial tour company walkers), pay a fee (as of December 2015, it was $200 per person), and walk from north (Cradle Mountain) to south (Lake St Clair). During winter and early spring, from 1st June to 30th September, you do not need to book or pay, and can walk in either direction. Don’t try to walk the track without paying for the pass: you’ll get caught, fined and it is generally uncool.

Independent walkers can take as many days to complete the track, so you can take as long or as little as you would like. Pick up your Overland Track pass at the Cradle Mountain Visitor Centre and catch the shuttle bus from the centre to Ronny Creek.

There are water tanks (and drop toilets as well) available the main hut sites along the way, as well as some of the emergency huts. You can get water from many streams along the way- make sure they are deep and/or flowing: for extra care boil the water for 3 minutes, use water treatment tablets or a water filter.

Getting There, Getting Away

I was fortunate to have a friend drop me off at Cradle Mountain and pick me up in Lake St Clair. For those not as lucky there are buses.

NOTE: Buses are not daily, so plan your trip accordingly so that you do not have to rush or pay an exorbitant amount on private car transfers (which can be up to $400 each way)

Getting to the start (Cradle Mountain):Screen Shot 2016-01-23 at 10.10.28 pm

Getting away (Lake St Clair)

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I suggest, the most cheap and convenient way to do this (if you are flying into Tasmania) is to fly into Launceston (or take the ferry into Devonport) and to fly out of Hobart OR in and out of Launceston.

Costs for 2015-2016 Peak season:

Launceston to Cradle Mountain/ Lake St Clair to Hobart $104.00

Devonport to Cradle Mountain/ Lake St Clair to Hobart $86.00

Launceston to Cradle Mountain/ Lake St Clair to Launceston via Hobart: $134.00

Devonport to Cradle Mountain/ Lake St Clair to Devonport via Hobart: $137.00

Typical 6 days (Using Ferry):

Depart Wed, Launceston; Arrive: Mon Lake St Clair (stay in Lake St Clair overnight and take Tuesday morning bus)

Depart Thu, Launceston; Arrive Tue Lake St Clair ( you will need to catch the first ferry, so will need to have an early start on the Tuesday)

Depart Sat, Launceston; Arrive Thu Lake St Clair (you will need to catch the first ferry, so will need to have an early start on the Thursday)

Typical 7 days (Without Ferry)

Depart Wed, Launceston, Arrive Tue, Lake St Clair (consider doing Day 6: Windy Ridge/Bert Nichols Hut to Echo Point Hut and Day 7: Echo Point Hut to Cynthia Bay so you don’t need to get up too early) – for trips to end in Hobart or Launceston

Depart Thu, Launceston, Arrive Wed, Lake St Clair (stay overnight at Lake St Clair and catch bus on Thu) – for trips to end in Hobart or Launceston

Depart Sat, Launceston, Arrive Fri, Lake St Clair (for trips to end in Hobart only)

Depart Mon, Launceston, Arrive Sun Lake St Clair (for trips to end in Hobart only)

(Note there is free camping for Overland Track hikers at Ronny Creek and at Lake St Clair if required)

For more information about public transport click here: http://www.parks.tas.gov.au/file.aspx?id=37294

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Lake St Clair, at Echo Point Hut

Notes re the Ferry:

If you’re catching the ferry from Narcissus Bay to Cynthia Bay, please note the ferry runs for a minimum charge of $240.00 if there are 6 or passengers, it becomes $40.00 per person (Dec 2015). There may be some times where there are not 6 passengers to ride, so some people choose to walk the last 17.5hours. If you’re keen to catch the ferry without the high cost, I would suggest pre-booking the 1315 ferry as the commercial tour company hikers are booked on this time and will have more than 6 passengers. The maximum passenger number is 22. Click here for more information (or for information about catch the ferry to and from Echo Point Hut): http://www.lakestclairlodge.com.au/about-lake-st-clair/lake-st-clair-ferry/

Timetable as at December 2015:

Cynthia Bay (Depart)  0900 Hrs  1230 Hrs  1500 Hrs
 Narcissus (Arrive)  0945 Hrs  1315 Hrs  1545 Hrs
 Cynthia Bay (Arrive)  1030 Hrs  1400 Hrs  1630 Hr

When hiking the Overland Track in December 2015, my trip was as follows:

Day 1: Ronny Creek to Lake Windermere [18.5km, 6.5-9.5hrs]

Day 2: Lake Windermere to Pelion [16.8 km 5-7 hrs]

Day 3: Pelion Hut to Kia Ora Hut (Side Trip: Mount Ossa Summit) [8.6 km, 3-4 hrs (+ 6km, 3.5-4hrs) ]

Day 4: Kia Ora Hut to Narcissus Hut (Side Trip: Harnett Falls) [18.6 km, 6.5-8.5 hrs (+ 1.5km, 0.5-1hr)]

Day 5: Rest Day [short walks, yoga and chats]

Day 6: Narcissus Hut to Cynthia Bay [17.5km, 5-6 hrs]

(I will be describing the walk as I completed it)

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Wildlife on the Overland Track: An echidna at Ronny Creek

The classic walk generally involves:

Day 1: Ronny Creek to Waterfall Valley [10.7 km, 4-6 hrs]

Day 2: Waterfall Valley to Lake Windermere [7.8 km, 2.5-3.5 hrs]

Day 3: Lake Windermere to Pelion [16.8 km 5-7 hrs]

Day 4: Pelion to Kia Ora [8.6 km, 3-4 hrs]

Day 5: Kia Ora to Windy Ridge/Bert Nichols Hut [9.6 km, 3.5-4.5 hrs]

Day 6: Windy Ridge/Bert Nichols Hut to Narcissus and to Cynthia Bay via ferry [9km, 3-4hrs + 0.5 hrs on ferry]

Day 7: Narcissus to Cynthia Bay by foot [17.5km, 5-6 hrs]

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Walking towards Mount Pelion West

The Overland Track is one of Australia’s most famous multi-day hikes, often being paralleled to the Milford Track in New Zealand’s south island. The area surrounding Cradle Mountain and Lake St Clair (which is the deepest lake in Australia) was first explored in the early 19th Century by prospectors and hunters but was then blazed by fir-trapper, Bert Nichols,  (of which one of the huts is name after) in 1931. The track was then  prepared for independent walking parties a few years later, and now around about 8000 walkers tackle the track each year.

Completing this walk in December, I was was extremely fortunate to be blessed with mostly clear weather: most days were sunny and mid 20 degrees during the day. As Tasmanian can be quite unpredictable it was important to prepare for all types of weather such as cold, rainy, stormy, muddy and windy.

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My life in a pack: Approximately 18kg (including water).

Day 1: Ronny Creek to Waterfall Valley to Lake Windermere

The first day is  challenging because your pack is at it’s heaviest and there is a steep slog uphill for about 3km to Marion’s Lookout. It is over reasonably quickly however, and the view of Cradle Mountain and Dove Lake is nothing short of amazing- especially on a clear day. Although I did the hike solo, Colin (my friend who was dropping me off and picking me up on the other end) walked this first bit with me, so it was nice to have the company in this tough section. As the steepest section of the entire Overland Track, there is a section with a chain to help you to haul yourself (and your pack) up to the lookout.

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Hiking up to Marion’s Lookout past Crater Lake
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The view of Cradle Mountain from Marion’s Lookout
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Colin checking out the map at Marion’s Lookout- Dove Lake behind.

Most of the vegetation from Ronny Creek to Waterfall Valley Hut is alpine vegetation is alpine community or buttongrass moorland. This can mean that it is quite exposed and can be windy.

After reaching Marion’s Lookout is a smaller ascent to reach Kitchen Hut, an emergency shelter, that also has toilet facilities. It is at this point where you can continue along the Overland Track, or leave your pack, grab your daypack with essentials, and do the side trip up to Cradle Mountain Summit (2km return). While I didn’t do this side trip while doing  the Overland Track, I completed the summit two years prior. It definitely worth it for the beautiful views, but there is boulder scrambling and some precarious sections (so don’t attempt during rain or snow).

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Kitchen Hut

From Kitchen Hut continue for the next 5km across the alpine vegetation before starting to descend towards Waterfall Valley Hut.

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Barn Bluff (Optional Side Track): The junction is approximately 2km from Kitchen Hut and the return hike is 7km. Be prepared for some rock scrambling!
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Wildflowers of the alpine community

You can choose to stay in Waterfall Valley overnight (as the majority of people do), however I continued onto Windermere Hut. Other hikers spoke of a fairly tame wombat at Waterfall Valley- so it might be just the place to stay and experience some of the wildlife.

If you do continue to Windermere, it is a fairly easy 2.5hour walk with only a slight ascent and then a descent towards Lake Windermere. I started out from Ronny Creek just after 1pm and reached Waterfall Valley Hut at about 4:30pm. Being summer, the sun set at around 8pm so the walk to Windermere was absolutely picturesque with the afternoon sun.  If you start earlier in the day, a quick side trip to Lake Will (3km return) across a coal seam is possible. If you leave your bag at the junction, make sure that you close up everything securely as the currawong birds are pretty clever at undoing bags and having a sneaky snack.

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Junction for Lake Will Side Trip: 3km return
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Lake Windermere: Great spot for a dip!

 

The camping area provides camping platforms to (something I hadn’t experienced before, but undoubtedly helpful for when it may be wet or raining). If you can, continue on past the toilets and the helipad on the left and choose a spot with the gorgeous view of Barn Bluff in the distance.

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My camping spot at Windermere- a beautiful sunset to end my first day.

Day 2: Lake Windermere to Pelion 

The walk from Lake Windermere to Pelion (New Pelion Hut) is a somewhat easy day of mostly flat trail or a descent. It is a longer day for walking but there are some nice places to stop along the way with some beautiful views.

The day begins along moorland and continues towards gorgeous views of Mount Pelion West

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Buttongrass moorland at the foot of Mount Pelion West

About 4km into the day, there is a stop of logs where you can leave your pack to turn off to see the Forth Valley Lookout (only 100m away from the junction)- remember, protect your snacks from the currawong birds by securing your packs.

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Leave your pack at the junction to take in the views at Forth Valley Lookout
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Forth Valley Lookout

After the Forth Valley Lookout, you will continue across Pine Forest Moor and then start a descent towards Forth River, just before Frog Flats campsite, which is a great place to stop for a snack.

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Forth River Crossing, just prior to Frog Flats campsite

There is no sign that announces you are at Frog Flat campsite, so this river crossing is the best marker to tell you that you are at the lowest point of the Overland Track (elevation 730m above sea level). Some people may choose to stay here overnight, otherwise it is a gradual ascent to New Pelion Hut.

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Helicopter dropping off a couple of rangers at Pelion Hut
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View from my tent
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View of Mt Oakleigh from New Pelion Hut: Climbing Mt Oakleigh is an optional side trip (8km or 4-5hours, return)

Day 3: Pelion Hut to Kia Ora Hut

This is the day that you will do some serious climbing! You will ascend about 300m through heathland and rainforest to reach alpine region of Pelion Gap. It is here that you can do some summit side trips and climb Mt Pelion East (on the left) or Mt Ossa, Tasmania’s highest peak (1617m). I chose to summit Mt Ossa, as it was a very clear day. Mt Ossa is a 6km (or 3-4hour) return trip from Pelion Gap. It is steep, with lots of rock scrambling and despite only carrying a daypack, it was a challenge on the thighs.

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Pelion Gap: Leave your packs here to summit Mt Ossa (just remember to protect your food from the sneaky currawongs)

Make sure you take enough water on the way up. I climbed on a 30 degree day, so it was some thirsty work. Getting to the summit of Mt Ossa is much longer than getting to the Cradle Mountain summit and there is a lot of rock scrambling (so best not to do in rain or snow- you wouldn’t get the view in any case). Make sure you look out for the arrows to point you in the right direction.

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Nope, Mount Ossa summit is behind!
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The summit of Mt Ossa: 360 degree views of the North-West Tasmania ranges.
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Having a rest at the top!

After coming down from the summit of Mt Ossa, it’s a gradual descent from Pelion Gap to Kia Ora Hut and there is a creek just beyond Kia Ora for a nice (but icy!) dip after a hard days climb.

Day 4: Kia Ora Hut to Narcissus Hut (via Bert Nichols (Windy Ridge Hut)

If you’ve made a summit the day before, the hike from Kia Ora to Narcissus will seem like almost a dream (depending on how your thighs are going). Most will stop at Bert Nichols Hut, however I decided to do a double-day and continue to Narcissus Hut because I went a little quicker that anticipated.

From Kia Ora Hut, it is mainly rainforest and heathland for the rest of the hike and you will continue on a gentle ascent to Du Cane Gap via Du Cane Hut (an emergency shelter), and some short side trips to D’Alton and Fergusson Falls (1km return) and Hartnett Falls (1.5km return).

I chose to only visit Hartnett Falls, which was a great place for a splash in the water but D’Alton Falls appeared to be the most picturesque amongst the hikers that visited all three.

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Du Cane Hut
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Rainforest
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Time for a dip at Harnett Falls

Bert Nichols Hut (also referred to as Windy Ridge Hut) looked to be the newest hut with a range of rooms for those choosing not to camp outside, and lots of space to cook your meal and air out any wet clothing. When I arrived, the weather had looked fairly sketchy but I decided to have an early lunch and carry on for another 3 hours to Narcissus Hut. 1.5 hours into this walk, it started raining so my walk through to Narcissus was a little more speedy than expected (I didn’t stop much to take photos). Suffice to say, I decided to stay in the hut (rather than camp outside) that night to dry out.

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At the moment the skies opened up!

Day 5: Narcissus Hut to Cynthia Bay

After a rest day at Narcissus Hut (I was two days ahead of schedule for meeting my friend Colin), I decided come out a day early and tackle the last 17.5km.

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Reflections on Narcissus Lake
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Rest day at Narcissus Hut: Warming up with some chick pea curry.

Only approximately one-quarter of Overland Track hikers, walk the final day from Narcissus Hut to Cynthia Bay. Most take the ferry, which I am sure is a great vantage point for some photography of Lake St Clair and it’s surroundings. The walk on the last day is easy and relatively flat but takes most of the day to walk. Some people choose to stay at Echo Point Hut which is 6.5 km from Naricissus Hut to make the final day shorter but it is a more rustic shelter (although there is a beautiful beach that you can pitch your tent on).

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Echo Point Hut: Rustic but charming
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Gorgeous day on the shore of Lake St Clair, Australia’s deepest lake

The track meanders around the lake, although I expected to be walking on the shoreline. This was not the case as you generally walk in the rainforest, slightly elevated from the lake.

As you near the visitor centre there will be a turnoff at the left towards the hikers camping ground and you can follow the shoreline to the Visitor Centre. The other way is to continue straight down the track which will lead you to the Visitor Centre via the main access track.

It was crazy, for some reason I thought it would be like a marathon and people would be high-fiving me on my final approach to the Visitor Centre- not the case. I asked a girl to take the photo at the end point and signed the walkers logbook and went to order a beer and a veggie burger.

All guts, no glory…clearly still need to work on that ego of mine…

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I made it! Approx 90km solo over 5 days and loved every minute of it.

For more information about the Overland Track Walk visit:

www.parks.tas.gov.au/index.aspx?base=7771